Bill passed by parliament means more than €300m shares in coal, oil, peat and gas will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’
The Republic of Ireland will become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament.
The state’s €8bn national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. Norway’s huge $1tn sovereign wealth fund has only partially divested from fossil fuels, targeting some coal companies, and is still considering its oil and gas holdings.
The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly and trillions of dollars of investment funds have been divested, including large pension funds and insurers, cities such as New York, churches and universities.
Supporters of divestment say existing fossil fuel resources are already far greater than can be burned without causing catastrophic climate change and that exploring and producing more fossil fuels is therefore morally wrong and economically risky… [ed. emphasis mine]
The Irish fossil fuel divestment bill was passed in the lower house of parliament on Thursday and it is expected to pass rapidly through the upper house, meaning it could become law before the end of the year. The Irish state investment fund holds more than €300m in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.
“The [divestment] movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted,” said Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill. “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”
Éamonn Meehan, executive director of international development charity Trócaire, said: “Today the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] has sent a powerful signal to the international community about the need to speed up the phase-out of fossil fuels.”
The bill defines a fossil fuel company as a company that derives 20% or more of its revenue from exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels. The bill also allows investment in Irish fossil fuel companies if this funds their move away from fossil fuels.
Gerry Liston at Global Legal Action Network, who drafted the bill, said: “Governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”
The San Miguel River near its headwaters in Telluride, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
Tubing Boulder Creek
Here’s the release (Barb Halpin, Public Information Officer, Ben Irwin, Amy Markwell, Valentina Stackl):
Costs of climate change impacts estimated to top one hundred million dollars by 2050
Today, the Colorado communities of Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder—with legal support from EarthRights International, Niskanen Center, and other co-counsel—filed a lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil (“Exxon”), two oil companies with significant responsibility for climate change. The communities have demanded that these companies pay their fair share of the costs associated with climate change impacts, so that the costs do not fall disproportionately on taxpayers.
Climate change affects fragile high-altitude ecosystems and hits at the heart of these communities’ local economies, affecting roads and bridges, parks and forests, buildings, farming and agriculture, the ski industry, and public open space. Adapting to such a wide range of impacts requires local governments to undertake unprecedented levels of planning and spending. Over the next three decades, these communities will face at least one hundred million dollars in costs to deal with the impacts of climate change caused by the use of fossil fuel products like those made and sold by Suncor and Exxon.
Suncor and Exxon have known about the costly consequences of fossil fuel use for more than 50 years. Yet they continued to promote and sell their products, while recklessly deceiving the public and policymakers about the dangers.
In the past year, nine coastal communities in California and New York filed climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies. This is the first such lawsuit in Colorado—or anywhere in the U.S. interior—aimed at holding fossil fuel companies accountable for paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.
“Climate change impacts are already happening and they are only going to get worse. In fact, Colorado is one of the fastest warming states in the nation. Climate change is not just about sea level rise. It affects all of us in the middle of the country as well.” – Elise Jones, Boulder County Commissioner
“We are a small rural county dependent on tourism and farming and ranching. A natural disaster here could wipe out our reserves. Unabated fossil fuel production is already impacting our climate. These changes will grow more intense over time.” – Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner.
“Our communities and our taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of climate change adaptation alone. These oil companies need to pay their fair share.” – Suzanne Jones, Mayor, City of Boulder
“For over 50 years, Suncor and Exxon have known that fossil fuels would cause severe climate impacts. To enhance their own profits, they concealed this knowledge and spread doubt about science they knew to be correct. Now, communities all over this country are left to foot the bill.” – Marco Simons, EarthRights International
“Future generations and those least responsible for causing climate change will bear the brunt of the impacts. We need to shift the costs back to these companies that have profited off their demands for unabated pollution in the face of global climate destabilization.” – Micah Parkin (350 Colorado)
“The fossil fuel industry has normalized oil and gas in our lives while concealing the dangers. It’s time for a cultural shift. In the future, when we talk about ‘energy,’ we should be referring to renewable energy, not fossil fuels.” – Rebecca Dickson, Sierra Club
“For hundreds of years, the common law has insisted that people who damage property should be held liable for their actions, and this case seeks no more than to protect property rights and the rule of law.” – David Bookbinder, Niskanen Center.
For years, these Colorado communities have taken action to reduce their own carbon footprints. All three have adopted ambitious CO2 emission reduction targets, passed budgets for climate work, conducted greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, and established incentive programs for residents. Despite these efforts, taxpayers already face the rising costs of adapting to a changing climate.
Suncor and Exxon are two of the world’s largest contributors to climate change and have been particularly active in Colorado. Fossil fuel combustion accounted for nearly 80 percent of all GHG emissions between 1970 and 2010.
Exxon is the largest investor-owned fossil fuel producer in history. Suncor is one of the world’s largest independent energy companies. Both are active in Colorado.
Suncor’s U.S. operations are based in Denver, Colorado; the company supplies about 35 percent of the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel demand. Suncor and Exxon work closely together in Colorado to market and sell fossil fuels.
The two companies jointly own the majority of Syncrude Canada Ltd., one of the largest developer of Canada’s tar sands.
Together, Suncor and Exxon are responsible for billions of tons of CO2 emissions. Their future carbon footprint is likely to be enormous, as well: both companies plan to expand fossil fuel production through tar sands, fracking, and other means.
For more than 50 years, these oil companies have known about the harm that their products would cause to communities, but have chosen to continue business as usual. These companies have long known about the risks of their own activities. In 1968, industry scientists warned them that “significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000” due to rising GHGs, and that “the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”
By the 1970s, Suncor and Exxon knew with high certainty that their products were dangerous and that inaction would cause dramatic, even catastrophic, changes to the climate. Exxon even took measures to protect itself from climate change: for example, the company adapted its own facilities to protect from sea level rise.
Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder have partnered together to represent communities on the Front Range and the Western Slope and require these oil companies to help pay for the costs of climate change on local communities in Colorado. Because of the magnitude of the financial impacts, these communities feel like they have little choice but to bring this litigation on behalf of their residents.
EVs still small share of market share, but that could change
Remember the riddle about the lily pond that begins with one lily, the number doubling each day? The pond seems empty even when it has become an eighth filled. But you can do the math for the three days beyond.
That riddle comes to mind when Will Toor talks about the adoption rate for electric vehicles in Colorado. Today they constitute just 10,000 or so among the 5 million-plus cars, trucks, and motorcycles. But the growth rate for EVs has averaged 41 percent since 2012, and this year sales are up 73 percent over the same months of last year.
Toor, the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, sees this progression as evidence for a coming tipping point in transportation electrification. Like the lilies, this automotive pond will soon look very different.
“We are clearly headed toward lower-carbon electricity, and we now seem to be getting to the tipping point in electrification of transportation,” says Toor, who has a doctorate in physics. Sales will double within three years at this rate of growth. With certain policy supports, Colorado could have a million EVs by 2030, he adds.
Colorado now has the 6th largest market share of EVs in the country, behind California and other West Coast states, Hawaii, and Vermont. Fort Collins, Boulder, and the Roaring Fork Valley stand out as early adopters, says Toor.
To be sure, there are some who remain skeptical, seeing more measured and incremental growth unlike the quick adoption of smart phones and other new wrinkles in technology. EVs, they say, do not obviously represent a transformative improvement for consumers as compared to gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles.
State governments, however, want to smooth the way for EVs, creating charging infrastructure to create comfort for potential buyers. Colorado agencies propose to spend $10.3 million of the state’s $68 million share of the Volkswagen settlement for charging stations or fueling stations for zero-emission passenger cars and trucks. The settlement is a result of Volkswagen’s admission that it tampered with its diesel cars to allow more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.
In anticipation of that settlement, Colorado a year ago was moving to join Utah and Nevada in creating charging infrastructure on interstate highways—and, in some places, beyond. Soon, it will be possible to drive from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean with some sort of fast-charging infrastructure guaranteed about every 50 miles. But there are still gaps, such as between Denver and Summit County.
Last year, Colorado also released a tiered program for implementation of electric charging stations and other alternative fuels on secondary highways, such as along U.S. 285 between Denver and Buena Vista and along U.S. 36 between Denver and Estes Park. Other corridors, including U.S. 40 and U.S. 50, are also being targeted for alternative fueling stations.
More policy supports may be on the way as advisors to Gov. John Hickenlooper put together strategies to support the governor’s executive order, issued July 11, “supporting Colorado’s clean energy transition.”
The order directs state agencies to develop a statewide electric vehicle plan by Jan. 1 to build out key charging corridors that “will facilitate economic development and boost tourism across the state while reducing harmful air pollution.”
Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities have also identified electrification of transportation as crucial to achieving their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Denver is aiming for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050.
In Salt Lake City, vehicle electrification is seen as a crucial strategy for addressing the pollution that badly fouls the air during winter. Temperature inversions trap local pollution in the valley, leaving many of the one million residents of the metropolitan area wheezing, hacking, and scratching their eyes.
“It’s absolutely miserable,” says Nick Norris, communities and neighborhoods planning director. The pollution is also unhealthy, exacerbating asthma and even causing spikes in heart attacks. Medical authorities have attributed 1,000 to 2,000 premature deaths to the air pollution.
Transportation is the single largest source of the pollution, followed by exhausts from heating buildings, according to analysis by the state government. Electric power plants are located well away from Salt Lake.
This clear and obvious problem of pollution is causing more rapid acceptance of electric vehicles in the Salt Lake Valley, says Norris. It also fits with the goals of the city to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and home heating 80 percent by 2040.
Rocky Mountain Power, the electrical utility for Salt Lake City as well as Park City and Moab, supports this transition with installation of charging stations. And why shouldn’t it? Electric cars represent new demand even as improved energy efficiency has leveled off and even caused declines from other sectors. “It’s a different world out there than it was only a few years ago,” said Cindy Crane, chief executive of Rocky Mountain Power at the Western Power Summit last week.
Utah now leads the nation in percentage growth in EV sales, followed by Nevada, North Carolina, and Colorado. About 1.2 percent of all cars in Colorado are now electric, compared to more than 4 percent of all cars in California.
Wyoming, too, doesn’t want to be left behind. It joined with the effort to put electric charging infrastructure along major highways in concert with other Western states, despite the lack of current demand. Wyoming Gov. Brad Mead, at at the Center for the New Energy Economy conference in Fort Collins this week, characterized it as a chicken-and-egg situation. But given the importance of tourism in Wyoming, he said, “we don’t want to be left behind. We don’t want to be the gap state.”
Federal tax credits of $7,500 are available everywhere, but Colorado buyers have an additional incentive of $5,000 in state tax credits of, bringing an electric car so ld by Boulder Nissan, one of the West’s busiest electric-car dealers, down to about $22,500.
Boulder Nissan’s Nigel Zeid says tax credits will not always be needed to foster sales of electric vehicles. “This is like when you have a kid in college,” said Zeid, a member of the Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition, a state-sponsored group. “Once you’re out (of college), you’re on your own.”
Zeid also sees range concerns diminishing. The Chevy Bolt has 238 miles of range, and Tesla’s Model X has 295 miles of range (but at a cost of $98,500). But many more models are coming with 150 miles of range, satisfactory for nearly all daily commutes. “Now that you have 150 to 200 mile range, range is not really an issue,” he says.
A Federal Highway Administration map shows existing fueling infrastructure for Colorado, Utah, and other states, not just for electricity but also hydrogen and natural gas. However, the map has been outdated in recent weeks by the announcement that Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Idaho will be joining in the interstate infrastructure.
A case can be made that hydrogen still represents the fuel of the future. California now has 31 fueling stations and plans more. Colorado, perhaps surprisingly, also has some hydrogen fueling stations, all in the metropolitan area. Hydrogen fuel is energy dense and can be produced from water through a variety of fuels, both renewables and natural gas.
But U.S. car manufacturers are now rushing to produce electric cars. General Motors several weeks ago announced plans to embrace an all-electric, zero-emissions future, leaving behind the internal combustion engine “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” says Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product. Wired Magazine reports that GM plans almost two-dozen fully electric models by 2023.
Other car manufacturers have also announced plans to offer new EV models. China and India are embracing electrified transportation as they develop their economies and try to tame emissions that have fouled skies and scarred lungs. China, Britain, and France all plan to ban sales of vehicles powered by fossil fuels but have not set dates.
Some see the transition to electric vehicles happening more slowly.
“I am not sure they (EVs) will come quite as fast as some people say,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the Western Power Summit on Oct. 24. But one indication that it will occur sooner, he went on to say, is the announcement by GM of its robust commitment to EV models.
Some bumps in the road of this transition. “Certainly, there will be some issues around lithium and cobalt, two constituents of batteries. There could be some supply challenges,” says Toor, a former mayor of Boulder. “But I don’t think they will derail electrification.”
Discounts yields 42 EVs and hybrids in group buy
From April through June, a group buy for electric vehicles was organized in the Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle county areas (Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Vail).
Dealers in Boulder and Loveland, plus two in Glenwood Springs, were enlisted to offer discounts on top of the $12,500 state and federal tax credits. The best deal was offered by Boulder Nissan, which offered an $8,000 discount on Leafs. Other dealers offered somewhat lesser discounts for all electric and hybrid models.
The goal of 50 EV sales in the three-county area fell short: 42 were sold. However, the goal for 25 percent expansion of charging stations by the end of this year will almost certainly be exceeded. A recent report predicted an 85 percent increase.
The program was sponsored by Clean Energy Economy for the Region. It was based on similar group buys in the Fort Collins and Boulder areas in 2015 and 2016.
Notable was the support of Holy Cross Energy, the co-operative that serves most of the three counties. Holy Cross offered rebates of $200 to EV purchasers.
Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone?
JACKSON, Wyo. – Now come e-bikes and the question whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.
The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 20 mph. That’s the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 30 mph without pedaling.
Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.
“It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don’t want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway,” he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travelers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.
Crested Butte may slowly ease into paid parking
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town’s interior.
The town has gone along with a committee’s recommendation and has allocated $45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.
“The committee feels parking in town is ‘free and easy’ and we can’t build our way out of the problem,” said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. “I want to get people out of their cars,” said Jackson Petito, a council member.
The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town’s main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be $220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.
About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people. The amount of solar energy currently installed in the U.S. can power one in 14 American homes; that amount is expected to triple within the next ve years.
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade has been the result of smart solar-friendly state policies like net metering and tax incentives for solar infrastructure, putting clean energy within nancial reach of millions more Americans. The recent appointment of officials favored by electric utilities and fossil fuel interests to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies makes the preservation of strong solar policies in the states more important than ever.
In 2017, utilities continue to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for Americans to invest in clean energy.
This report documents 20 fossil fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running some of the nation’s most aggressive campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy in 12 states, including eight attempts to reduce net metering bene ts and seven attempts to create demand charges for customers with solar power. Citizens and policy-makers must be aware of the tools that utilities are using to undermine solar energy across America and redouble their commitment to strong policies that move the nation toward a clean energy future.
A national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel-backed think tanks has provided the funding, model legislation and political cover to discourage the growth of rooftop solar power.
• The Edison Electric Institute, the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, launched the current wave of attacks on solar in 2012. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council to create model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and attack net metering.
• The American Legislative Exchange Council also provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislators, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in states like Washington and Utah.
• The Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonpro ts. The Koch-funded campaign organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has carried out anti-solar organizing exorts.
• The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a Houston-based front group for the utility and fossil fuel industry, representing companies like Florida Power and Light, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell Oil. CEA has spent resources and shipped representatives across the country to help utilities fight their battles in states like Florida, Indiana, Maine and Utah.
• The state industry group Indiana Energy Association successfully lobbied on behalf of the state’s biggest electric utilities to end net metering, replacing it instead with a new solar policy that limits consumer compensation for generating rooftop power.
At the state level, electric utilities have used the support provided by national anti-solar interests, as well as their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies.
• In Florida, Florida Power and Light, Gulf Power Electric, Tampa Electric Company and Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., spent millions of dollars funding the front group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light drafted language for a new bill to restrict solar growth in Florida.
• Two major Arizona utilities – Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project – have success- fully pushed for anti-rooftop solar policies. Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility in Arizona, has also been accused of improperly cultivating in influence with the state commission that regulates utilities and funneling dark money into recent commissioner elections.
• In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power tried once again to eliminate net metering and charge additional fees to its 20,000 customers that generate rooftop power. Public outcry from ratepayers and the solar industry forced Rocky Mountain Power to settle, grandfathering all current solar customers into net metering.
• In Texas, El Paso Electric renewed its past attempt to create a separate, and more expensive, rate class for solar customers. In 2015, the utility spent $3.1 million on filing and negotiating fees, an amount ultimately charged to ratepayers, before dropping the proposal, only to pick it up again this year.
• In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully campaigned the Nevada utilities commission to eliminate net metering, a move that e ectively halted the growth of rooftop solar in its service territory for two years. After widespread public protest, state legislators e ectively reinstated net metering in 2017.
As of mid-2017, there were at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states with the potential to a ect the growth of rooftop generation, such as limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less a affordable.
State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry in influence, and reject policies such as
• Elimination of, restrictions on, or unfair caps on net metering;
• Discriminatory surcharges or tariffs for solar customers;
• Utility rate designs that discourage solar adoption;
• Unnecessary regulatory burdens on solar energy; and
• Rollbacks of renewable electricity standards.
In addition, state leaders should embrace ambitious goals for solar energy and adopt policies that will help meet them, including:
• Considering the bene ts of distributed solar energy to the grid, to ratepayers and to society in any rate making or policy decisions about solar energy;
• Implementing strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power;
• Encouraging community shared solar projects and virtual net metering, which can expand solar access to more customers;
• Enacting or expanding solar or distributed renewable carve-outs and renewable electricity standards;
• Enabling financing mechanisms to allow for greater solar access to businesses and residents;
• Allowing companies other than utilities to sell or lease solar to residents and businesses; and
• Making smart investments to move toward a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed sources of energy such as solar power to play a larger role.
Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution. Solar power will play a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution and the carbon footprint of the energy we generate and consume.
Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide
U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.
Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.
Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.
The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.
But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.
“China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”
That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”
The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.
In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.
Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.
A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.
To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.
He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”
The U.S. produces about 900 billion gallons of wastewater per year from oil and gas development, such as hydraulic fracturing. Some of the reuses proposed for this water include irrigation or discharging into surface water, but the chemical content and potential health implications of this water are still largely question marks to the scientific community. Currently, this wastewater is disposed of, either through evaporation, into pits or through underground injection.
But according to recent research out of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, the question at this point isn’t even about what is in the water or if it is safe. It’s about coming up with the methods necessary for science to even tackle those questions.
Karl Oetjen, Mines doctoral candidate and one of the lead authors on the paper, published in August in “Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry,” said there’s no adequate way to measure the chemical makeup of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. All of the current methods used to test the quality of water — such as surface water, ground water and even wastewater from other sources — don’t take into account the high saline content of the water or the numerous chemicals in it. These methods weren’t intended to test water so complex, he said. And since there’s a high level of variability in the water resurfacing from each well, it’s difficult for researchers to even pinpoint what they should be testing.
“If you’re worried about introducing this water to places where it could interact with the environment or human health, it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous or not dangerous because we simply don’t know,” Oetjen said.
He describes the process of looking for certain contaminants in surface water as looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you’re looking for contaminants in oil and gas wastewater, you’re looking for a needle somewhere in a million haystacks.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today led 11 colleagues in introducing the Pollution Transparency Act to standardize the metric used by federal agencies to measure the cost of climate pollution. This counters a directive from the Trump administration to agencies to ignore existing metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty-and an attempt made yesterday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the revised BLM methane rule to change his department’s metric without any prior consultation or transparency.
Cosponsors of the Pollution Transparency Act include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
“We cannot stand by idly as the Trump administration blatantly disregards broad scientific consensus and economics,” Bennet said. “This irresponsible ploy to upend years of progress is playing fast and loose with the health of our nation’s children. Although we cannot avoid all of the effects of climate change, we can create market certainty about how much those effects harm our children and our economy. This legislation would ensure the federal government runs a transparent process-grounded in science, with public and industry input-to quantify those effects.”
A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA-4).
“The next generation will have a better opportunity for a healthy economic and environmental future with the implementation of this bill,” McEachin said. “There are clear and undeniable costs of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in our economy: the cost of poor air quality in our neighborhoods, the loss of a day’s work when taking an asthmatic child to the doctor, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and sea-level rise – we have had enough. We need to ensure that the federal government is accurate and consistent in calculating the price of greenhouse gases when issuing regulatory and substantial procurement decisions. We can best address the root-cause of climate change by taking an intellectually honest and evidence-based approach to quantify its impact. This method will allow us to build a more resilient infrastructure and leave a better Earth for our children and our children’s children.”
Background on the Pollution Transparency Act:
Since the George W. Bush administration, the federal government has been required to consider the economic damages that result from climate pollution in the rulemaking process. This metric was developed through a rigorous process, using the best available economics and science and revised when necessary. In March, the Trump administration directed federal agencies to ignore the existing metric and instead select their own metrics-uprooting years of progress and economic certainty.
The Pollution Transparency Act would codify a scientifically-developed value for the cost of climate pollution across all federal agencies. The requirement to consider this cost already exists; this legislation would simply streamline the regulatory process by standardizing the metric and re-establishing a process to revise it through a public process. Ultimately, it would create greater market and regulatory certainty by ensuring federal decisions are transparent, standardized, and grounded in facts.
A Fact Sheet can be found HERE. A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.
Statements in support of the legislation:
“Quantifying the true cost of GHGs helps tell the full story so that we can make more informed policy decisions. This bill move us in an appropriate direction so that we can better review how GHGs impact Colorado communities.” – Larry Wolk, Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment
“I applaud Senator Bennet’s leadership in bringing forward the Pollution Transparency Act to ensure full and accurate consideration of the cost of carbon pollution in decision-making. Ignoring proven science and clear economic risk will not make climate change disappear. Only consistent and transparent accounting for the impacts of climate change can prevent waste of taxpayer funds on subsidies for shaky infrastructure and obsolete technologies.” – Mary D. Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (Full letter of support can be found HERE)
“The social cost of carbon is a linchpin of national climate policy, providing a guidepost to balance the costs of climate change to our economy today with the damages that have started to arrive and are projected to grow. This bill ensures that this critical guidepost continues to be robust and grounded in the latest available science and economics, while providing certainty to businesses eager to have a consistent regulatory process.” – Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago
“It is critically important for policymakers to account for the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions in their policy decisions. These costs should be quantified using the best available science and economics, in order to inform decisions that affect public wellbeing.” – Richard Revesz, Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus and Director of the Institute of Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law
“Proper evaluation of the benefits and costs of regulations that affect emissions of greenhouse gases requires that the federal government use the best available estimate of the damages that such emissions cause. This bill would guarantee that this happens. It is consistent with a recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. We, the undersigned, strongly support the Pollution Transparency Act.”
– Maureen L. Cropper, Distinguished University Professor of Economics, University of Maryland
– Robert Litterman, Former Head of Risk Management, Goldman Sachs
– William Pizer, Susan B. King Professor, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
– Richard Schmalensee, Professor of Management and Economics, Emeritus, MIT, Member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1989-1991
– Glen Hubbard, Dean of Columbia School of Business, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush